Gamers want the most realistic, lifelike experiences possible, so how can service providers measure, assure, and ultimately monetize the low-latency QoE they want?
Gamers are among most tech-savvy of telco customers. They want fast reaction times and a smooth, responsive gaming experience. If their characters cannot run, swing a sword, advance troops, or see the actions of other players, they have a negative experience. Often, they jump on gaming forums and social media platforms to voice their frustrations or to troubleshoot (with other gamers) the hardware, software, or network they are using. Depending on the findings, they can be quick to lavish praise or criticism about their providers.
The experience of gamers matters more than ever, as increasingly there are rankings published for “the best Internet providers for gaming” across PC, console, and mobile varieties. All three categories are growing, with a 31% year-over-year (YoY) increase since 2020 (compared to 7% YoY increase from 2018 to 2020). Newzoo Research predicts there will be approximately 3.24 billion gamers worldwide by 2024, creating $219 billion in possible revenue for the sector.
With this growth comes more in-game engagement, and with more engagement comes the opportunity to monetize – especially around QoE and SLAs tailored to gamers’ actual usage. More and more, games are integrated with social media and video, and increasingly gamers are comfortable with in-game transactions and payments to buy new lives, weapons, power boosts, and even real estate within metaverses. Every such engagement represents opportunities for creating a frictionless experience, and a relationship on top of which loyalty and new services can be built.
If you look beyond the network as the “product” and focus more on the delivery of smooth, realistic gaming experiences as the “product,” you devise gaming QoE-driven plans for game slices or even individual streams that can be split across multiple flows across concurrent gaming streams (i.e., individual household, mobile hotspot). It’ll be your networks, your edge and cloud capabilities, and your network management that will be critical to delivering the best user experience possible and to monetizing it.
To gamers, latency, lag, and video stalls are their worst enemies, so guaranteeing network performance in the context of their favorite games is what will matter most to them. Of course, that’s not an easy task for network planners and engineers tasked with the challenge of battling congestion. In gaming, the top bandwidth eaters can consume between 40MB-140MB/hour, and sometimes even as much as 300MB/hour. “Gaming” is the #4 category for total Internet traffic in our Global Internet Phenomena Report, and within that category, there is definitely a cohort of “heavy users” – people consuming more than 1 TB of bandwidth per month, and in some cases, as much as 3TB of bandwidth/month. The culprits are usually on XBOX Live Video, PS4 Games, and Twitch.
We also see that the transition to 5G increases monthly data volumes, sometimes to twice the amount over 4G networks. That means the speed of 5G will definitely be a huge boon to gaming, but resolving congestion and capacity will be all the more critical. Having the right analytics and the most sophisticated “scoring” capabilities to measure, assure, and effectively monetize gaming QoE will, therefore, be important to telco success in the gaming portion of the growing apps market.
Measure, Assure, Monetize with QoE ‘Scoring’
To embark on the journey of monetizing gaming QoE, an operator has to be able to answer certain questions, such as: “Who are my gamers, what types of games are they playing, and what is their experience on my network? Have they gotten immediate responses to their commands? Is audio and video synchronized? Have they received best video resolution with no stalls? If not, what actions can be taken to improve the gamer experience or to overcome issues of network topology, congestion, or interactions of certain devices with the network?” Our Gaming QoE Analysis use case helps answer these gaming-specific questions.
When it comes to these questions, most “gaming analytics” solutions fall short. They fail to provide visibility into end-user experiences, relying on volumetric data analysis versus a highly granular analysis (such as throughput at 250ms-intervals, application latency measured throughout the lifecycle of the game, jitter, etc). This analysis is necessary to know what’s actually happening within the network, or within the specific category of game, user, and device.
What’s needed to measure user actions and the behavioral characteristics of the individual games themselves are best-in-class analytics, which leverage machine learning to provide traffic classification of encrypted gaming traffic and to cut through the complexity of today’s transport and privacy protocols (i.e., QUIC, iCloud Private Relay, etc.). The combination of analytics and machine learning-based traffic classification enables “QoE Scoring” of performance KPIs calculated at per user, per application, per location, and per device levels. As stated earlier, each gaming category and sub-category has its own unique network requirements, so it is important to score each category differently in order to truly capture the experience and demand on the network.
We use specially designed crowd-sourced tests and periodic randomized control tests to frequently validate the accuracy of our scoring.
This level of insight about actual in-game usage, gaming quality, and network performance makes for better decision-making around the variables most likely to affect the gaming experience, such as hosting and delivery (Servers, CDNs); access network (locations, cells, POPs); consumption (device types, devices, subscribers).
Key benefits of Sandvine’s Gaming QoE solution:
Last but not least, we recognize that about 20% of network traffic still travels over UDP, so it is imperative to have a gaming quality measurement solution that gives QoE metrics for UDP traffic. Many vendors face challenges in calculating round trip time (RTT) for UDP traffic, unlike TCP traffic that eases RTT calculation due to presence of sequence numbers and acknowledgment for the same sequence numbers in both directions. Unlike other vendors, Sandvine’s gaming classification measures the inter-packet arrival time and jitter metrics to provide QoE for UDP traffic, in addition to TCP traffic.
By closely monitoring gaming traffic, we make it possible to react more intelligently and quickly to how gaming is being delivered by the network – in this case, ensuring gamers are humming along with smooth, realistic experiences, even as games and networks evolve.
To learn more about how to mitigate churn, increase loyalty, and improve the chance of monetizing network slices with our Application QoE Scoring, and Use Cases, contact us here, and check out our Use Case eBook and our Global Internet Phenomena Report and Webinar.